- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Now that the D.C. Council has given preliminary approval for funding a ballpark for the Washington Nationals, Cadillac Bud Selig can appear as scheduled tomorrow before the Greater Washington Board of Trade and say something during his 10-minute talk other than “I look like an idiot.”

That’s what yesterday’s council vote was about — credibility for everyone involved.

If the council had not approved the ballpark funding, Cadillac Bud might as well have given up a lot of his time to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, council chairwoman Linda “Miss 11th Hour” Cropp and the rest of the inmates so they could repeat the District’s new slogan: “We look like idiots.”

Think back to a few years ago. This region was talking about playing host to the 2012 Summer Olympics. Where was the rallying cry from Cropp and other ballpark critics about the potential costs to the city for that fiasco, in which they agreed to pay nearly 30 percent of any losses more than $175million? The Olympics loses more than $175million in bribes alone.

The Olympics? Ha! If the council had killed this ballpark plan, it would have had a hard time attracting a Shriners carnival.

Remember the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis heavyweight title fight charade, in which the city lost out to Memphis on a chance to play host to the fight? I don’t know what was more embarrassing to the city: simply wanting to play host to the event or losing it to Memphis. But I do know this: If councilman David Catania and his “We Hate Everything” brigade won out by voting down the stadium financing plan, they could have just pulled up all of the “Welcome to Washington” signs and replaced them with “Welcome to Scranton, Pa.”

Of course, if the council comes back Dec.14 and fails to give its final approval on the funding — and with just six yes votes and three abstentions, that could happen — those “idiot” signs will have to be dusted off. Or the city just could skip the formalities and put the exclamation point on the national joke by making Marion Barry mayor again.

Until this deal is signed, sealed and delivered, baseball in Washington isn’t a sure thing. Every hour that passes between now and the final approval is an hour in which something could go wrong, which is amazing considering this has been a process that has not taken several weeks or months but 33 years, the amount of time since the expansion Washington Senators left for Arlington, Texas.

That’s why the grandstanding by Cropp and Catania is so blatantly political and self-serving: None of this was a surprise. Generations of politicians and business and community leaders have spent millions of dollar and countless hours trying to bring major league baseball back to Washington. After all of those failed efforts, anyone who claims to be shocked at the price tag for realizing that goal is either too stupid or too dishonest to hold public office — even in Washington.

This city has had a hole in its soul for 33 years. If you think that is not the case, consider that no other city has waged such a long battle to try to get back a professional sports team. After 33 years, most cities with a team just up the road — one that had won a World Series in the meantime and plays in one of the greatest ballparks in the game — would be indifferent to getting a team of their own by now.

Not Washington. Rooms full of people showed up to support building a ballpark more than three decades after major league baseball left the city. (Yes, there were lots of people protesting it as well, but it’s easy to get people to show up against something, especially in the District, where the same dysfunctional group shows up for everything.)

Washington has a strange identity crisis. It is the most important city in the world, yet it is trying to establish itself as something more than just a federal city. A major league baseball team is a primary characteristic of that these days.

The pencil-neck geeks who write economic reports and participate in panel discussions, such as the one held Monday by the CATO Institute, have no clue about that identity or the economic benefits — or much else for that matter. Brad Humphreys, associate professor of recreation, sport and tourism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (often referred to as the Harvard of Urbana-Champaign), made this declaration at the CATO discussion when talking about how ballparks do not deliver economic benefits. “What about the [Tampa Bay] Devil Rays?” Humphreys said. “There’s not a thing within 10 miles of that stadium.”

That’s not true. There are a number of funeral homes within that 10-mile radius.

Of all the possible examples, this clown picks the worst ballpark in baseball — a domed stadium that was outdated before the team played a game there, in a community with so many senior citizens on fixed incomes that it is the only place they take attendance before and after games. RFK Stadium would be a better draw than Tropicana Field.

Then there is Montreal city council member Marvin Rotrand, who wrote a letter to Cropp warning her of the dangers of building a ballpark for baseball. He used Montreal’s $1billion Olympic Stadium as an example, as if anyone here would be stupid enough to have spent so much money on a facility for the Olympics.

Hey. We may be idiots in Washington. But we’re not Canadians.

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